TV Turn-Off Week: Condescending TV warnings are the real turn-off

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Don’t look now, but next week has been declared TV Turn-Off Week.

This from TV Watch, a New York-based interest group whose real agenda seems divided evenly between lecturing others about their TV habits and keeping the government from pursuing serious regulation of the TV industry.

What they are, in other words, is one of those double-reverse industrial advocacy groups, a la the Phillip Morris-run group that runs public service ads condemning the whole idea of smoking.

Which isn’t to say that the TV Watch people – just like the cigarette-fueled anti-cigarette people – aren’t right. Because, duh, of course they are. Cigarettes cause cancer, just as obviously as TV causes “Hope & Faith” and shows in which hot blondes talk to other people’s dead relatives.

But then there’s the matter of tone. Because, as Phillip Morris and their evil friends know, sometimes the best way to get someone to do something dangerous is to tell him or her, in nearly excruciating tones of condescending know-it-all-itude, not to do it.

It’s called reverse psychology. And while I’m going to talk more on this subject starting in the next paragraph, it’s going to be pretty tough sledding, intellectual-processing-wise, so don’t you think you might be more comfortable on the comics page? Really, take a look at today’s “Ziggy,” and see if you can work your way through that without pulling a synaptic nerve. Off you go now, there’s a good lad.

But you’re still here. See what I mean?

Anyway. I have no reason to doubt that TV Watch – which claims the support of organizations ranging from the American Conservative Union to the Black Filmmaker Foundation to the Center for Creative Voices in the Media to CBS – is anything less than sincere in its professed dismay for your TV addiction. And it doesn’t take a brainiac to realize that most kids spend far, far too much time mossing out in front of the TV. As a result, the whole world grows steadily fatter and stupider and closer to the precipice of complete social and spiritual destruction.

But as much as I hate the lousy TV shows that are gradually turning my children into hard-eyed, emotionally numb serial killers, I hate even more being spoken to as though I were a moron. So please don’t inform me that controlling what I see on TV is “easy as toast!” Don’t tell me to plaster my remote with stickers that will remind me that shows rated for “Mature Audience Only” aren’t for the wee ones, while the ones rated “All Children,” cast largely with singing puppets, are.

Believe it or not, I already had that one worked out for myself.

But what really bugs me here is the awful cognitive dissonance of both agreeing with a general cause (people should probably watch less TV, and really stop tattling to the government every time they glimpse something they wish they hadn’t) and hating the way the cause is being presented.

Because most people, while lazy and far too fascinated by things of little or no consequence, are not stupid. So maybe rather than pathologizing the TV medium and treating viewers as if they were lemming-like junkies, it would be more helpful to make some general TV user suggestions. Almost as if you were having a conversation with another adult.

TV Watch has their guidelines. But they’re jerks, so let’s ignore them and turn directly to mine. For who could know the TV medium better than someone who has to watch virtually everything on the tube as a condition of his ongoing employment? Yes, exactly. Yet even I have rules. Here they are:

Kids: According to some psychiatrists, watching too much TV at too early an age can actually alter your brain chemistry in ways that you might later wish it hadn’t been. And yet kids love to watch TV, and a lot of good TV actually is made with kids in mind. So act like an adult and help the tots find the shows that can actually help them act like good kids, once they turn the box off. Which you should make them do way, way, way before they get to the six-hour-a-day threshold where most kids (allegedly) now exist.

Aimless channel surfing: Can be done, within reason. After all, what better way is there to take the culture pulse than by zipping through 100-plus TV shows in short order? I can do this for about an hour before my thumb gets sore and my brain feels like it’s going to explode.

Watching only educational TV: Well, aren’t you fancy! Also delusional. I mean, Lawrence Welk wasn’t high-fiber 35 years ago, and he still isn’t today. And just because PBS reality shows come with a light educational veneer (ooh, frontiersmen wore uncomfy shoes; who knew?) they’re still about the same thing as “Survivor”: Who wins the gold, who gets the girl.

Keeping the TV on all day long as if you were a hermit and it were your only companion: Bad idea.

Getting outside on a nice spring day: A good idea that feels even better when you remember that real fun and games aren’t interrupted every five minutes by ads. Or, for that matter, analyzed and decried by potentially shifty corporate interest groups.

Peter Ames Carlin is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. He can be contacted at petercarlin@news.oregonian.com

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